It’s no secret that the downturn has had a huge impact on the way businesses operate, in particular forcing many companies to completely overhaul how they work with their suppliers, competitors and partners in order to survive.
Many are now benefitting from a smarter, more open approach to working with other businesses and finding that, by working together, they are sharing costs, increasing creativity and access to expert skills. But while this might seem like a good idea in theory, it’s not always easy to find, let alone approach, the right businesses.
Here are a few tips to help break the ice:
1. Work out where you need help
Before doing anything, you need to work out which parts of the business could benefit from working together more with other businesses – it could be your IT, sales processes or office space, for example.
By carrying out an objective, thorough audit of your business’ strengths and weaknesses, involving staff from all levels, you can get a good understanding of where improvements and savings can be made through a good relationship with other firms.
2. Don’t be shy
When looking to identify businesses you can work more closely with, it’s important to look at your professional network with an open mind. This might mean, in some instances, that you even look to collaborate with your competitors if you can both benefit. It could be, for example, that two retail suppliers working together to share their transport costs.
You should also look to see who you can leverage within your existing network and get them to introduce you to their contacts. Using this ‘borrowed credibility’ can often be a good source of sales leads or trusty business partners.
Once you have your wish list, don’t be shy, make the first move and approach them with an idea - you might even find they were thinking the same.
3. Think outside the box
You have a sales pitch, and want to stand out against the competition. Why not think about going in with a ‘coalition’ of partners who can offer expertise for each part of the brief you are answering? This might not always be the right approach but more often than not, today a one size fits all approach just doesn’t cut it.
Think about different ways of paying for services too. You could, for example, offer those you are working with a service in lieu of payment, such as a marketing company offering their services, rather than cash, to a website designer in exchange for a new website.
4. Make time for it
One of the biggest challenges in making this all work is finding the time to get out there and meet (the right) people, but it’s something worth investing in. Networking opportunities won’t necessarily come to you on a plate, you will need to build them into your day-to-day activities or otherwise they will drop off the radar.
5. Be safe
While collaboration has many upsides, it’s important that even the closest business relationships are built on a clear understanding. Consider partners carefully before committing to a business relationship, and make sure you address areas of concern; payment terms, delivery arrangements and even profit share etc., in advance.
With economic recovery still some way off, it’s important that businesses continue to evolve and innovate in the way they work with and for each other. A little bit of proactivity and thinking outside of the box can go a long way.
Perhaps it’s time to get that long overdue drink in the diary with the company next door.
Patrick Gallagher is CEO at CitySprint, a courier and distribution firm.